April marks another philosophical year in my quest for Jiu Jitsu Zen. I first experienced Jiu Jitsu around June 1st 2002 in the Army, started a Jiu Jitsu club at a college in late September, and entered my first competition as an Intermediate in late May of 2003. This has been the journey of a lifetime, and the most significant characterization of my adult experience. I truly believe that I would be dead or crippled if it wasn’t for this hard and technical training; it was a lifesaver beyond an identity. There are certain things you cannot prevent, because injury and aging does happen at a variable pace. If I could change one thing, I would have been more careful in training and competition in order to prevent some of the horrific injuries. That also would have meant saying no or changing training partners. At the time it would have been rude and there were less training options; it would have been impossible to know which situation was truly better.
There were certain things that I needed to learn, but looking back all the information was surrounded and obscured by fluff techniques. Fluff techniques were someone else’s good ideas, fun little things to do that sometimes helped. However, they were dependent on certain variables or details in order to be successful. Remove or change a small aspect of the position and you were finished. I recognized early on after trying many of the moves that were in books or on youtube that nobody was releasing moves that they hadn’t already mastered. Using similar thinking such as the Gracie gift pass, (a guard pass that allows people in the know to easily choke you) book and video instructors were giving out moves AFTER they had discovered the counters. They understood something so well, that they released something they knew they could defeat. They used fancy or creative moves as selling points, but long after they had discovered simple counters for these moves or positions. The fluff techniques were still used as selling points, which led to technical commonality at many gyms and in competitions around the country. Jiu Jitsu practitioners became known for certain moves, but as the years went by the creators of the moves often stopped using them.
I was able to replicate many of these moves, and realized how limited they were. The moves I learned in the Army needed to be discarded. They were remnants of the Gracie Combatives program. We learned the Gracie gift pass for example. The people I competed against at this time used very boring Jiu Jitsu strait out of the books. The really good competitors used dangerous leg locks that few knew how to counter, or maybe they won positionally with wrestling. Around this time I discovered that there is no counter for the unknown, as long as you can pull it off. The limiting factor was going to be me.
I decided to draw pictures of people in Jiu Jitsu positions, and would bring several Jiu Jitsu books for inspiration to a coffee shop. These conceptual jam sessions would last for 4-5 hours. I would attempt to think about what the positions in the books felt like, and would play out the action sequence in my head. I would think about changes in my body position that would frustrate and complicate the opponent’s goal. I would look over the body positions I had drawn, and conceptualize various shapes and movement to include lowering or raising body position. The drawing and notes would take up several pages on lined paper. Most were tested in my mind, and of course later they were tested on a mat. Unfortunately, my Jiu Jitsu club only had a concrete floor. Despite the lack of equipment or training partners, the frequent brainstorming led to the development of my entire Jiu Jitsu game; there was naturally a graveyard of discarded techniques along the way.
We didn't have access to much back then. Whatever move you made up was the move you were hoping to use in the next competition. The best in the Tri-state area were working hard, hoping to defeat you in the next tournament. This made things very interesting. When I started visiting other gyms, it became apparent that most instructors and practitioners were on the same page. Nobody had come in and handed them Jiu Jitsu, they were simply trying to figure it out with the information that was available. They weren't quite innovating that much, so many of their movements were predictable. Remember, the limited game was already released. 90% of people only practiced what had already been released, and much of it had characteristic holes. The wrestlers were still winning. The cultures of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida were adding a distinct flavor to the gyms and competitions I experienced. Pancration and traditional Sombo added leg lock inspiration. Royce Gracie had people going for arm bars. Everything was complete, except for the game. The best was yet to come.